Did you know that on this day in 1861 Charles Dickens began a reading of his Great Expectations, one of six from mid March to late April that year? Although not all readers enjoy the work of Charles Dickens, certainly this classic author provides a masterclass in perseverance as a writer. Dickens himself was undergoing considerable family strain at the time of his writing the story and yet whatever challenges were going on behind the scenes, he remained dedicated to his writing.
Many could argue that he brought his family troubles upon himself, he had split from his wife of more than twenty years to pursue an affair. His son was raking up gambling debts and his daughter had married a man whom the author disliked thoroughly! In addition to that, he watched his mother undergo what was likely dementia. It is no surprise then that the classic story actually had an alternative, more sombre ending. Before the final instalment of the book went to print, Dickens showed the story to his fellow author Edward Bulwer-Lytton who advised against the ending that was first penned. The original ending was;
‘One day, two years after his return from the east, I was in England again—in London, and walking along Piccadilly with little Pip—when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady was driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another. “I am greatly changed, I know, but I thought you would like to shake hands with Estella too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it!” (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.) I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.’
Needless to say, the story did not go to print with this ending but rather with the slightly more hopeful and certainly more poetic last paragraph – ‘I took her hand in mine and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.’
Do you think Charles Dickens was correct? Do you prefer the original ending or the one we’ve all come to know?
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